The Amazing Spiderman and how taking one thoughtful class can ruin passive viewing forever

Last week I went to see the new Spiderman movie, The Amazing Spiderman. The movie was pretty decent (in case you were wondering), but more importantly it was pretty relevant to what we discuss everyday in class. Of course Peter Parker’s own ability-adjustment courtesy of your local neighbourhood radio-active spider is present, but in this particular version of the film, Dr. Curt Connors is most intriguing. We have discussed the prevalence of disability in superhero stories, but most often we find ourselves considering the extra abilities of the heroes and, I think, not the (dis)ability of (SPOILER ALERT) villains. Connors’ is some nature of gene therapy scientist at OzCorp who works with the super-spiders trying to transfer regenerative abilities of animals onto humans to create the “perfect man”. I know what you’re thinking, and YES, IT’S THE AGE-OLD EUGENICS PLOT LINE! But more than that, Connors’ himself has only one arm; the other having been amputated for some unknown reason.

The intrigue of this film is how it paints Connors as the overtly intelligent man with a noticeably lacking body that he works tirelessly towards correcting. His personal pursuit of perfection literally drives him from quiet scientist to super-villain, and he is painted as the disabled character who, once abled, is a menace to society. He becomes greedier for more ability, more strength, and more power until no more sense of himself remains. Among other things, this is a funny take on “kill or cure,” where the doctor tried to cure himself but ends up as a public enemy who must be killed.

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9: future identity

Both Davis and Haraway identify postmodernity as a school that “destabilizes grand, unifying theories, that renders problematic desires to unify, to create wholes, to establish foundations” (Davis 81). The notion of individual identity is important in post-modernity, as we have learned, and each future-glancing reading for this week considers post-modern identity to a significant degree. Lennard Davis wants disability studies to move forward in a way that differs from the progression of civil rights, womens’ rights, and gay rights. He calls for disability studies to embrace its own “instability” and unstable nature in order for scholars to rethink dilemmas of identity construction that impact minority groups. He states that “disability may turn out to be the identity that links other identities, replacing the notion of postmodernism with something I want to call “dismodernism”‘ (Davis 82). What follows in Davis’ discussion is much talk of the eugenics and the short-comings of gene therapy. With this evidence he emphasizes that the genome is not the essence of human life, nor are race, sexuality, or ability located in the genes. He ends with the idea that dismodernity means caring about the body instead of caring for or care of the body. The latter two produce an oppressed subject, while caring about is a form of liberation. He sums up his writing pretty lucidly here:

“Disability studies can provide a critique of and a politics to discuss how all groups, based on physical traits of markings, are selected for disablement by a larger system of regulation and signification. So it is paradoxically the most marginalized group–people with disabilities– who can provide the broadest way of understanding contemporary systems of oppression” (89).

Davis’ argument is fascinating, and his evidence interesting from my entry-level disability studies POV. After doing so much reading on the history and function of eugenics in the disability studies, it’s now interesting to learn of eugenic short-comings such as Davis details. In particular, his use of the film Gattaca as a fictional example of the creation of “designer babies” then subsequent dismantling of the real possibility for perfect genetically engineered humans was very effective. 

Siebers is all about minority and identity politics. He, too, identifies instability with disability: “Disability seems to provie an example of the extreme instability of identity as a political category” (93). Siebers looks to realism to define the future of disability studies, but he begins with a critique of past social constructionists and disability. Most interestingly, I find, is his discussion of Butler and disability. Butler’s concerns are with guilt and the body, but Sieber notes that her main concern is psychological and the power of the psyche over the body. The problem with Butler’s argument and its application to disability is a mind/body problem. He remarks that “the body supporting Butler’s theories is an able body whose condition relies on its psychological powers, and therefore the solution to pain of disability is also psychological” (Sieber 96). But what of disabilities that are undeniably physical like amputation? Sieber concludes with a discussion of realism, using the example of his own inaccessible home as an illustration.

Mcruer’s idea that a spectre of some nature (globalization, counterglobalization?) is haunting disability studies makes for an interesting article. It’s always fun to catch some articles in active contest with each other, and here McRuer declares that Lennard Davis is guilty of over-simplification and under researching:  “Here then [In Davis’ work], we are not talking about supplementing disability studies with a discussion of global bodies but, rather, about disability studies as a global (or globalizing) body….I would insist that the conversations about identity trouble have been much more complex and contested than Davis allows…We cannot afford to position any body of though, not even disability studies, as global in the sense of offering the subject position, the key” (McRuer 108). I can’t weigh in on Davis’ research abilities but I like McRuer’s point that perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on the emergence of disability studies precisely because it is the newest category of identity among the above mentioned.

 

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my recurring thought while reading for week 8: “say wha?”

Corker and Shakespeare

 I’d first like to point out that the conclusion of this article reads like an ominous manifesto:

 “We therefore believe that disability studies has little choice but to engage with these ideas.” (14)

 Otherwise, this article was a weighty read. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything about modernism and post-modernism, so I certainly appreciate the refresher course they begin with. However, their description of the two modes is modeled to their argument. They remark that the medical and social models aren’t quite cutting it for disability studies—aren’t sufficiently representing the global experience of disability—and we should expand into the more theoretical approach of post-modernism. The difficulty with viewing disability through a post-modern lens is that the complexities of theory start to make disability studies inaccessible to those with disabilities; the strong connection that exists between activism scholarship risks deterioration. This conclusion hits precisely on the thoughts I was having while trying to keep my brain from exploding and reading through the sections on Foucault, Derrida, Butler, and Lacan. Of course it is fantastic that postmodern theory is so readily applicable to disability studies and it highlights the growth potential of this academic field, but will society actually become a more positive social space for the differently-abled if a bunch of scholars write impossibility difficult papers applying postmodern theory to disability?

 Butler

 This was a doozy of a read. Butler brings the use of the term “queer” into question, analyzing its historical function and attempts at current re-appropriation. She remarks that, no matter how we use a term now, it carries the history of its use in every utterance. Gender performativity also surfaces here in a discussion of drag and also of the interpolating power of discourse. From what I grasp in this article, I think I like what Butler is saying. Her discussion of “queer” recalls Linton’s article on naming disability, not to mention her focus on the “I” of identity formation is something that we often discuss in class. In their article encouraging postmodern/structuralist study of disability, Corker and Shakespeare drop Butler’s name to show how her feminist studies might relate to theoretical disability studies:

 “the idea of gender, race and disability as corporeal styles makes it possible to examine how individuals live in their bodies and, in this process, constitute gender, race, and disability in social relations. She emphasizes that performativity must be understood not as a singular or deliberate act, or performance, but rather as the ritualized practice by which discourse produces the effect it names.” (Corker and Shakespeare 10)

 This quotation was kind of helpful in clearing up some ambiguities in my brain and helping to connect Butler’s theory of performativity to disability studies. Specifically, this connection makes me think of Heidi’s application where she considered the transability website. Understanding discourse is crucial in surfing the posts, and those considering themselves transabled are engaged in a very particular course of performativity. This is likely a little bit off the wall, but I’m wondering if the performative elements of transabilty and drag are highly similar. Both are deliberate and conscious practices (I think).

 Bordo

 Bordo makes a convincing argument for cultural ideology instead of pathology as primary cause of anorexia and bulimia. To press her point beyond the generalization of culture, she specifies that the individuals’ own experience of culture is at issue more than the broad, over-reaching effect of culture on people at large. This argument for socio-culturally inflicted eating disorders among women is certainly in line with the idea that “society determines disability.” Like Butler, Bordo is working from a feminist perspective here. Her approach is appealing to me, and I find her comparison of the victorian ailment “hysteria” to what we currently consider medical ailments of anorexia and bulimia to be compelling. I tend to forget about hysteria, and only recall it amid shaking my head at someone’s everyday use of the term or at its mention in Victorian poem, but it’s very fascinating and convincing, I think, as a disabling result of Victorian culture. That it is also a gendered affliction is the cherry on top of Bordo’s use of it in her argument. 

 Tremain

 Tremain, like Corker and Shakespeare, argues for a more aggressive application of theory to disability studies. He takes the particular foundations of Foucault’s power relationships and analyzes “impairment,” concluding that “impairment has been disability all along” (Tremain). There’s something irksome about the tone of this article on the whole, but it nontheless offers an interesting application of Foucault. This article recalls Wendell’s presentation of the official definitions of disability and impairment provided the UN. I wonder if an organization like the UN could ever be swayed by Foucauldian or postmodern thinkers…

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resources for research

Perusing the blogs of others has opened me to a lot of promising-looking sources and sites– it is much appreciated considering how difficult finding specific resources has been thus far. I haven’t been able to dive into research just yet, but for my post this week I’ll reveal (dun dun dun) that I think I’ll be focusing on comedy for my final project. In what capacity exactly, you ask? Well, I’m not 100% sure yet. 

Here’s what I’ve read so far (I’ll add to this list throughout the week when I can rediscover the particular articles):

“Disabling Comedy:”Only when we laugh!”” by Dr. Laurence Clark

http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/Clark,%20Laurence/clarke%20on%20comedy.pdf

To come will be two more articles concerning contemporary British comedy. Intriguingly, both articles focus much of their attention on the British original version of The Office– a show that does not scream “disability studies topic” to me in any fashion but that the authors nevertheless find substance in. 

Heidi’s website application prompted me to hit the web for regular/non-academic sources as well. I’m thinking perhaps comment sections or forums. I’m not sure where this will take me but I’d love to read some reactions to disability presented in popular television from people posting online. 

 

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disability as social force

Disability is material and individual experience within the human body, but, perhaps more than that, it is a social force. No matter how hard you look, I don’t think you’ll find examples of these points intersecting in an episode of Seinfeld. I’m not sure how clear I can articulate this, but I’m thinking instead about Stephen Hawking as an example. Hawking’s disability it overtly visible, both because he is in a wheelchair with an unconcealed speaking device, and because his fame renders him visible to most anyone. But what about this famously intelligent man with a paralyzing disease screams social force? Probably everything. We usually talk about disabilities as socially constructed forces themselves that incapacitate those who are not typically normate, but in this case, Hawking’s physially disability is his marker, and the defining trait of his image. I feel like Hawking’s disability functions similarly to autism in someone the public views as a genius. I started this post hoping to argue that Hawking’s image is a social force working in favour of disabled communities and helping the average normate to see that a different ability does not mean deficit. I seem to have found something else, though– the image of the exotic. Hawking is not “exotic” in ethnicity to North American eyes, but labelling his abilities as exotic or “freakishly smart” makes it easy to see him as Other. Ugh. Well, it’s back to the start. Disability is a social force that complicates the image of anyone extraordinary and takes away from the worldly inspiration they should inspire.

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bodily rhetorics

Prior to attending class for several weeks, “bodily rhetorics” meant simply, to me, writing about the body. My literature background had me predicting readings like Frankenstein and The Hunchback of Notre Dam, and maybe something very sexually charged– any sort of literature that featured different bodies or organized itself around the metaphorical body. Of course there was the word Disability lurking alongside the course description, but I gave it little thought just as classic lit seems to do. But now bodily rhetorics is less an empty course descriptor and more a mode of thinking. Activities like reading scholarship featuring Bob Flangan, watching Murderball, finding application in Game of Thrones, and skimming through archives of A.R. Kaufman have suggested something new about bodily rhetoric. Certainly, that it is everywhere and only requires some additional thought and consideration. But also that it is glaringly obvious, and we are employing bodily rhetoric every freakin’ day of our lives. Bodily rhetoric is something that I am now aware of, instead of something that is filed under “genre” or “category” on a scholarly shelf. It is also the historical treatment of the body, and forces us to consider eugenics, social norms, birth control, etc.. I can’t possibly state all that it seems to be in a single paragraph! It needs a novel!

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4: evil eugenics forever

Ordover

Ordover’s rhetoric is not shy of portraying eugenists as evil geniuses.

The most intriguing discussion for me in his article was the historical account of eugenics in play at Ellis Island. In particular, Ordover mentions how medical professionals were looking for the signs preceeding feeble-mindedness at the port instead of simply feeble-mindedness itself. The signs are “peculiarities” like “nerve storms, poorly controlled grief…sullenness, facial tick…sick headaches” (12) etc. All of these symptoms seem natural to someone who had just travelled for days (maybe months!) at a time on a boat! Of course they have headaches and are sad! Snyder and Mitchell make mention of eugenists general failure to address problems in environments as factors of disability, and it seems like this is an example of that. This also plays into the idea that immigrants had 5 years to  succumb to feeble-mindedness within their new environment.

Mitchell and Snyder

Remaining in the same realm of topic, Mitchell and Snyder’s mention of rural verses industrial environment and the eugenisist’ claim that feeble-mindedness became more visible in this new environment was also intriguing. Mitchell and Snyder make clear the eugenisist understanding (misunderstanding?) of environmental effects on people, but they also emphasize the failure to address environmental issues. Would eugenics claim that progressive industrialization was a natural movement that addressed disability by making it more visible? Mitchell and Snyder begin their discussion lamenting the days when disability was subject to rehabilitation instead of custodial duties, so shifts certainly take centre stage in this article.

McLaren

Brave New World!

I’m struck by the introduction of sex education through means so ultimately repressive as eugenics. It’s interesting to note how sexual education is indeed a “left” idea now while the “right” battles against it. I would never have realized that the stigma of venereal disease had at least partially eugenic roots! McLaren remarks that those hoping to police reproduction and sexual behaviour “viewed veneral disease as symptom of more dangerous evils– irrationality, pomiscuity, perversity” (74). Weird to think that something so composed of categorized symptoms itself was/is in fact considered a symptom of something else. But of course, this idea holds strong today and we attach stigma to those with veneral disease with ease. As a general trend, the conversation here turns back to Nazi Germany. McLaren goes in a unique direction, though, commenting that Canadians admired the Nazi committment to racial betterment instead of telling us that they were shocked at the extreme practice and immediately realized what a terrible path eugenics lead down. I wonder which angle is more honest.

The Epilogue is a welcome articulation of eugenics as a less-successful, sidebar practice. Instead of stressing the evil-genius nature of eugenicists here, McLaren identifies the varying degree of eugenisism (?) that people practiced and generally believed in, and he also comments that many chose the fear of eugenic rhetoric as a career tactic. I like the approach taken in this section as it feels a little more understandable. McLaren’s inclusion of Tommy Douglas as the quintessential eugenicist who found himself proven wrong by the Nazi use of national hygiene is compelling, since I’m sure most Canadians grant Douglas the left-most of views. Eugenics wasn’t employed as an evil practice, though, as Ordover is committed to expressing, it came hand-in-hand with this honest desire people had to reach “betterment,” and I think this epilogue does an excellent job at expressing that (without belittling the topic of course).

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